A Glimmer of Hope for Haiti

February 21, 1994

President Jean-Bertrand Aristide of Haiti needs to listen to the newest searchers for a political compromise in Haiti. It was only under State Department pressure that he agreed to see this group, the National Mediation Commission. There may be virtue in its plan for him to appoint a prime minister to take office without a timetable set for the exiled president's own return.

President Aristide, the country's only popularly elected leader, overthrown by military coup in September 1991, is not the chief obstacle to peace. Lt. Gen. Raoul Cedras, the army commander, keeps the crisis going by refusing to fulfill his promise to relinquish power and go away. He sits atop the pinnacle of old Duvalierist soldiers and thugs who enjoy privilege behind the barrel of a gun. But it is not President Aristide's right to unfettered rule that is the paramount interest, as he seems to think, but the Haitian people's right to a better life and control of their own affairs.

The U.S. selective economic sanctions, meant to target the ruling dictatorial class and not hurt the mass of people, have not proven effective yet. There is little doubt that General Cedras and the thugs were emboldened to break his promise to step down by the successful defiance of American power and dictates by General Mohamed Farah Aidid in Somalia.

Some critics of Clinton administration efforts urge a military adventure to restore President Aristide but anyone -- American or Haitian -- with a knowledge of the history of U.S. interventions in Haiti should oppose that. The administration is on the right trail in using economic and diplomatic muscle, but so far hasn't made the combination work.

A solution in Haiti that will keep its people there with some hope for a better life requires the military to hand over power to civilians. Legitimacy rests with President Aristide.

The politicians and businessmen who make up the National Mediation Commission have charted a way to get from the present to the future, through the appointment of a prime minister to take over for a transition, and President Aristide ought to listen sympathetically. Especially if it is the long-suffering people and not his own aggrandizement that he cares about most.

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